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Physician-assisted suicide? When doctors give nutrition advice

In our society, we physicians are afforded extraordinary power. “In the case of the United States,” noted an article in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, “the question of how a profession held in low esteem and mired in a complex and unwieldy competitive system, managed to create a degree of professional sovereignty and social authority unprecedented anywhere else in the world, is a fascinating one.” In surveys over the years doctors have held on to first place in ratings of public regard for 17 occupations (and for some labor day weekend irony, union leaders were held among the lowest). Quoting from the book Women and Doctors: “No other professional in America enjoys the degree of authority that physicians have managed to secure. Almost unquestioned in their judgments, they have been given the authority to exercise power in areas that extend beyond their medical area of competence.” Case in point: nutrition.

Physicians have been considered by the public to be the best, most reliable, most credible source of information about nutrition. One survey of consumers found that they preferred the advice about healthy eating habits from their physician over 10 other potential sources including dietitians, the government, and consumer organizations. The sad reality, though, is that most doctors are taught next to nothing on the subject.

In the 1950s, “A Survey of the Teaching of Nutrition in Medical Schools” was published: “In most medical schools, organized instruction in nutrition is sadly neglected, despite ‘lip service’ to the contrary.” According to an update published last month, “Unfortunately, this statement is still as true today as it was over 60 years ago.”

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition even tried pitting doctors against patients head-to-head in a test of nutrition knowledge. More than half the patients scored higher than the some of the physicians! In today’s video-of-the-day—”Do Doctors Make the Grade?“—I offer an update on the state of nutrition education in medical school covered in my previous video, “Doctors’ Nutritional Ignorance.”

There is a group of physicians who take nutrition particularly seriously, though: the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This Monday they are launching their next 21-day Kickstart Program, offering free tips and recipes to help us all transition towards a healthier diet. If you or anyone in your life was inspired by CNN’s documentary The Last Heart Attack to become “heart-attack proof,” I encourage you to take advantage of PCRM’s innovative program and register now.

-Michael Greger, M.D.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

9 responses to “Physician-assisted suicide? When doctors give nutrition advice

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  1. My grandmother was a victim of the nutritional ignorance of medical profession, as is nearly everyone who develops a chronic disease such as heart disease under the care of a physician. If your own doctor displays signs of nutrition deficiency, they may need prescription from you. Have them take a book like The China Study and call you in the morning.

  2. Thanks Dr. Greger for being straight forward and honest about your fellow colleagues. As a medical professional myself (hospital pharmacist) I’m embarrassed by my own profession. I was lucky enough to be exposed to the benefits of plant-based nutrition through reading The China Study myself and have since spent the last 2 1/2 years doing everything I can to educate others on this topic. My goal is to help others get onto a healthy lifestyle and off their medications if at all possible. That’s why I entered the medical profession in the first place – to help people by using the most effective means possible even if it goes against my own profession.

  3. Most awesome post Dr. Greger and an excellent response from Mr. Rudolph to which I applaud both of you for your integrity, for keeping an open mind, and for having the courage to advocate publicly for truth in health and healing. I have twin daughters who are currently pursuing medical careers and are in their sophomore year of undergraduate college. They have become acutely aware of nutrition and the pains and losses suffered as a result of a lack thereof.

    We need more people like you who stand up against the powerful lobbies and corrupt politicians who are ruining our society through their ignorance, greed, and lack of personal integrity.

    Thank you again!

  4. Hi Dr. Gregor,
    We have a mutual friend, Eric Z. (I know you’ll know who) and found this wonderful resource when I forwarded the web address for The Bird Flu book to some friends. There’s a new movie coming out about a flu pandemic and people are getting scared all over again.

    Two questions, if I may; Have you seen the movie, ‘Fat Sick and Nearly Dead’ which is available free on Netflix; it chronicles 2 men on a juice fast for 60 days and is creating quite a stir among other people trying it, any comments would be welcome.

    2: I have Crohn’s disease and have lost my ileum to surgery. Should I adjust my B12 supplements to a higher dose or is what you recommend in your B12 video sufficient?

    Oh, and if you could offer any suggestions with regards to fibromyalgia, my son suffers from this greatly and we’re stymied as to what to do to help him. In case you run across anything in your research…

  5. Right now I’m honestly torn between two professions. I want to become a dietitian so I can hold a fine education in disease prevention through good nutrition. However, this country is so dumbstruck by the nutritional advice of doctors I am almost considering taking the long road to medical school just to get my voice heard. Any thoughts Greger?

  6. As a Registered Dietitian @Eric Needs, I can tell you that while the profession is rewarding, it’s also fraught with challenges and fairly disappointing pay and not much recognition as a “nutrition expert” despite our best efforts. As someone who also went on to get my doctorate in nutrition, I can tell you it was well worth the extra work and I am very thankful I’m no longer “just an RD”. That being said, I would also never give back my 10 years of clinical/patient experiences!

    While the China Study is very interesting, it is also a source of great controversy for those on the opposite end of the nutrition spectrum. Be on the lookout for those folks to visit your site and proclaim the China study as nonsense (not my personal take on the study). There are many “trolls” who love to stir controversy on a multitude of nutrition/health blogs, as I’m sure you are aware, so hopefully you are prepared for their tactics (typically based on utter nonsense and groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation etc.)

    Dr. Greger, I appreciate your efforts here. I wish you all the best in maintaining a neutral and balanced voice in the world of pay-to-say nutrition advice.

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